President Bush, Don't Do It

The program for "faith-based" initiatives first reminded me of the Catholic parish in rural Kentucky where a small group of volunteers — of very modest means – managed to sustain a population of poor families larger than that of the entire parish. Perhaps, I thought, federal assistance to such initiatives might lead to a departure from failed bureaucracies and expensive boondoggles, towards voluntary work and common sense.

More recently, I have heard "second thoughts," an increasing sense of alarm at the damage government funding might inflict on church-based programs. Dependency, dilution, bureaucratization, even debasement, threatens those programs that take the easy money.

The record is indeed convincing: one need only observe available evidence. In the past forty years, for instance, Catholics have watched their universities, charities, and even their national spokesmen become indistinguishable from the institutions and individuals of the liberal left.

Now, there are surely some Good Samaritans out there who believe it cannot happen to them. For those "true believers," let me recommend reflection, not on the possible and future consequences of government funding, which they insist they can avoid, but of the clear and present evil inherent in the very character of the funding itself.

A few basics – again, from the Christian point of view: First, virtue is based on freedom. Being free to do evil, we voluntarily choose good instead. There is no virtue in a mandatory action: it is exacted by force.

Second, Christian charity is voluntary and reciprocal. The man thrown into the ditch by robbers thanks the Good Samaritan, but the Good Samaritan thanks him as well: "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you, my brother in Christ." Love, and gratitude, abound on both sides.

In contrast, the taxpayer swears (or worse) as he ponies up to the IRS, fearful for his freedom, even his life, should he refuse. Likewise, the recipient of government funds smugly demands his entitlement: "Gimme!" No love is lost, or expressed, on either side. Spiritually, the exchange is a disaster.

Third, "social work" and Christian charity are polar opposites. Mother Teresa always insisted of her Missionaries of Charity, "We are not social workers. Early in the morning we receive the Body of Christ. All day long, then, we go out and find Him in the poor, the starving, and the dying."

Any government bureaucrat who expressed such sentiments would, of course, be fired, tried, and jailed for breaching the "wall of separation between Church and State." He would be guilty of the worst of offenses, a hate crime, for it is impossible to love both Christ and Big Brother.

Given these preambles, it is self-evident that the government funding of "faith-based" initiatives would irreversibly pollute and thwart the charitable efforts of any group that accepts the funds, no matter how those funds are used. Why? Because there is no moral possibility of doing good with ill-gotten gains.

Instead of judging these "faith-based programs" by where the funds are going, a Christian should look at where they came from. Indeed, we need only to consider the fundamental rules of a virtuous life, the Ten Commandments, to realize that the government funds offered to "faith-based" groups flow from a process that breaks every one of God's laws for His people. (Note: I use here the Catholic order of the Decalogue; however, the government, in the spirit of equality, breaks all the Protestant Commandments too).

  1. The First Commandment proclaims that no false gods shall take the place of the Lord our God. "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom," says the Good Book, but the modern state prefers Hobbes's dictum that fear of the government Leviathan should rule society. Fear of the IRS is the subtext of every sham "tax reform." Our elected representatives worship the golden calf that provides the funds that guarantee their reelection. Some of them even love it.

  2. The Second Commandment prohibits taking the Name of God in vain; I well remember the stout teachers' union member at a government meeting in our rural county. She strode to the microphone in defense of raising taxes on home-schooling Christian families to fund incompetent government teachers: "After all, Jesus said, u2018render unto Caesar,'" she crowed triumphantly, glowering at the Christian parents.

    She could have been much more honest by quoting Saint Paul: "slaves, obey your masters." The vanity, and hatred, was palpable. Her numbers are legion.

  1. The Third Commandment requires that we honor the Sabbath, but the government requires many families to send out their members to work on the Lord's Day so they can pay their ever-rising tax burden. My neighbor works two weekend jobs. It is hardly "voluntary."
  2. Moreover, the IRS has threatened my own diocese not to use its newspaper or services to address “political” issues, such as abortion, homosexuality, and other objective moral evils, or it will risk losing its tax-exempt status. The IRS does not honor the Lord, His day, or His Word.

  3. The Fourth Commandment requires us to "honor our father and our mother." Yet the all-powerful state expropriates from us the funds with which we would take care of our parents, spends it immediately on vote-getting schemes, and then parcels out a pittance in "Social Security" that makes our parents forever dependent on — you guessed it — government largesse. As the number of workers declines, the government will no doubt highlight the wisdom of "voluntary" euthanasia for aging parents who are soaking up so much of our tax revenues and posing such a heavy burden on their children.

  4. "Thou shalt not kill," says the Fifth Commandment. Yet, the power to tax is the power to destroy, even to kill. Ever-increasing taxes and the lowering of the child deduction, which was relatively huge fifty years ago, constitute formal government encouragement not only to have fewer children, but also to abort pregnancies that might deter a career path or impede a second job – taken on, of course, in order to pay the taxes due on the income from the first job. Furthermore, the Catholic Church teaches that any crime of force is a breach of the Fifth Commandment, as well of others that might be broken. Does anyone believe that taxes could be collected without the threat of force?

  5. "Thou shalt not commit adultery," says the Sixth Commandment, but the marriage penalty encourages couples to live in sin, so they might save enough money eventually to overcome the tax code's barriers to marriage and children. Religious couples can still live married, moral lives, but against the grain and inherent disincentives of the tax code.

  6. "Thou shalt not steal," says the Seventh Commandment, and thus we hear the slobbering repetitions by IRS apparatchiks before Congressional committees that "voluntary compliance" is the foundation of our successful tax system. As Saint Augustine says, "without justice, what is the state but a band of robbers?" Does anyone even pretend that the tax code is just? Consider the most insidious tax of all, inflation, the secret levy designed by politicians, past and present, to push people into ever higher brackets, while making their earnings worth less and less, all to profit private government interests and politicians. If this is not theft, what is it?

  7. "Thou shalt not bear false witness," says the Eighth Commandment, yet lies swarm around the tax code like bees around my Azaleas. Christians enthused by the prospect of federal funding need only take heed of the reams of deliberate falsehoods and crimes that procure the funds. Former Senator Packwood's diaries, published in the Washington Post, detail how, after a particularly heartwarming roll in the hay with one of his staffers, Packwood was feeling so good-natured that he used his fiat power as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to give a former staffer a tax break benefiting the group he was now lobbying for.

  8. Even the IRS admits that its answers to a majority of questions it receives are false. And political critics of the regime or of the IRS are persecuted by tax authorities mouthing slogans of "fairness."

  9. "Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's wife," instructs the Ninth Commandment, but, thirty years ago, tax-and-spend liberals joined forces with feminist radicals to force wives and mothers by the millions into the taxpaying work force. The trillions wasted in the "Great Society," which devalued the currency by almost ninety per cent, also created a generation of day-care children, so government unions immediately preyed upon day-care workers to organize them. The hateful Leviathan coveted the freedom of stay-at-home mothers, so it forced them into the workplace, collected their taxes, destroyed their families, and gained even more power over their children and their caregivers. All in all, "mission accomplished" for the missionaries of envy.

  10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods," says the Tenth Commandment. Yet the Marxist ideology's graduated income tax, espoused enthusiastically in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, is based precisely on institutionalized class envy, with covetousness next to Godliness in the ranks of secular virtue. This idolatry is cheerfully embraced and perpetuated by contemporary politicians like would-be Speaker Gephardt, who breaks several Commandments at once as he foments envy of the "winners of the lottery of life," defying God's Providence in order to increase the power of the state.

Many of these tendencies are well-known to economists, in detail much more vast and explicit. But many religious believers distrust economics, to the point of rejecting economic analysis as "materialistic" in a world in need of "morality." Rest assured, the engines of statism recognize this inclination all too well, and milk it for all it is worth. Analysis is replaced by sentiment, sentiment by ignorance, and ignorance is manipulated by myth, and then lies.

Like Thomas Hobbes himself, we can see from these cursory reflections that God and the Ten Commandments are the greatest enemies of the Leviathan. No wonder the statists want no mention of either in their boot camps, the government schools.

My father taught law for thirty years. He used to tell his students, "If you take the first bribe, you may as well take the rest." Perhaps we might conceive of a "faith-based" initiative endowed with the wise leaders and good fortune that might evade the disastrous consequences that government funding has inflicted on other once-private areas of human endeavor. No matter — the funding is the first bribe. However adroit those leaders might be in remaining "independent," they cannot change the objective reality that the U.S. tax code providing the funds breaks every single one of the Commandments that God gave to Moses.

After all, the road to the Golden Calf is paved with government grant proposals.

May 7, 2001

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